Cultural Adjustment: Food, Customs, Dress, Social Interactions and More

Madrid, Spain is so ancient, yet so modern with its cathedrals intertwined with shops, cafes, and metro stops at every corner. Everyone’s cultural adjustment will be different based on where you grew up. When I first got here, I had a unique experience in that my fiancé’s great cousin was already living in Madrid from the Dominican Republic. So she introduced me around Madrid the first couple of weekends, which was so kind of her. She treated me as if I were her niece, and am very grateful for her welcoming me to Spain in that way. That being said, my cultural adjustment started off pretty smoothly. I was fitting right in with moving around from place to place like a local, and speaking Spanish as best as I could with my Puerto Rican heritage and knowledge of the language academically for 6 years.

It began getting difficult when there were certain things my host mom did that I was thrown aback by. For example, one night my roommate and I asked our host mom if she could save dinner for us in a container (we offered to buy the containers and wash the dishes), since that night my family friend had taken us out and we’d get home late (post 9 p.m.) or rather, after dinner. She was not happy. Although we tried talking with her about finding resolutions, she would not budge on saving food for us. But she did agree to make dinner that was microwaveable up to 12 a.m. on Saturdays, since she figured we would come home late on those days.

Going forward, every other day but Saturday dinner is at 9 p.m. sharp. That obligation was definitely not something I was used to. Also, who doesn’t ever have left overs? Sometimes that’s the best part of a home-cooked meal. You get to have it twice! Since that day, I’ve done my best to keep a conscience effort that every culture is different, and that my host mom comes from a very different place than I do. I have to do my best to understand and respect her norms because I live under her roof.

That being said, never be afraid to have a conversation about something that bothers you. It’s up to you to fend for yourself in any situation you are in, especially when it comes to your living conditions. Here is the place you want to be the most comfortable. It starts with being honest, trying to come from a place of understanding and concern, and working your way towards a better study abroad experience.

My host mom cooks a variety of savory meals. Some of my favorites are pumpkin soup, cauliflower soup, lasagna, French fries with sunny side-up eggs, and breaded chicken. My favorite desert she offers us is sliced strawberries with sugar. Her coffee for breakfast is also perfect to start the morning. Apart from those meals, toast with jam or Nutella is very popular here. A place called “Montaditos” has super good, cheap (in price) tapas. I always get mini sandwiches with Ali oli sauce, and it’s delicious. Get two and you’ll be filled. It always come with potato chips, and I pay 2 euros in total. Bread in Madrid is always good. Side note: if you like your food hot make sure you can ask them to toast your croissants with chocolate, any toast, sandwiches, etc. because most times they will give you room temperature sandwiches or bread.

In terms of clothing, fashion is IN here. Men and women wear skinny jeans on a daily basis. Both men and women wear peacoat jackets. Everyone here wears scarves. That’s a must! It is actually very windy and brisk in Madrid. It has snowed 4x since I have been here in January (2018)– a very rare occurrence. Fur coats are are also very much in style for women, especially older women. Embroidered jean jackets, and jean pants are also very popular here. Many people dress up here. I’ve never seen any locals wear sweat pants,  joggers, or pajamas outside.

Some people in Spain (at least on the metro), don’t say “sorry” if they bump you, or “thank you” if you hold the door. They don’t feel the need to, because their sense of personal space or privacy is not as sacred to them as it is to us as Americans. Don’t be offended, it is just their way of being, as we learned in my Cultural Studies course. Also, keep in mind that Spain uses military time. Spaniards start parties late (similar to New Platz, maybe?), and begin at 12:30 a.m. ish. Most importantly, the metro closes at 1:30 a.m. There is a physical gate the comes down, and an announcement that gives you 5 minutes to get out of the metro if you are still within the station. Be mindful, and careful, and always have an alternate way to get home. Night buses are always an option and you can use your public transportation card to get anywhere in Madrid by metro (the subway), bus, or train (the Renfe, an outside train to other provinces similar to the Metro North or New Jersey Transit).

Lastly, take it easy! All is new. There are good days, and bad days just like ANYWHERE you live or go to school. Remember you are a student traveling and living in another country on your own, but you’re still doing it! Take advantage of this time, and do your best to enjoy it all. Every part of it is a learning experience. Reflect often, and be thankful often. Keep in touch with family, friends, significant other(s), workers, advisors–people who mean a lot to you. Show them love, the way they have shown you love before and while on your journey. Send letters if that’s something you enjoy (ask for international stamps to the US, etc.). Breathe when the wifi gets spotty. It’s okay. It happens. And most of all, remind yourself you are studying abroad in Spain. You’re seeing and experiencing things many people don’t even get a chance to do in their lifetime. Being HERE is a beautiful thing, and something you’ll never experience exactly like this, again.

p.s. The featured image is a photo I took at Buen Retiro Park, a wonderful park similar to Central Park if you’ve ever visited New York City. Lovely lake, music, rose garden, and castle here in Buen Retiro. And, you can reach it by metro, of course!

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